Should You Use Google AdWords Express?

Google Ad Grant

Here’s a scenario: You work at a nonprofit, wear multiple hats and are an expert in stretching limited resources as far as you possibly can. You’ve heard that you can leverage Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) as a marketing platform and get your organization’s name and mission in front of billions of internet users. Plus, your nonprofit qualifies for the Google Ad Grant, which is $10,000/month in free ad spend from Google. Great! But it also sounds like it could take up a huge chunk of your time that you just don’t have.

Then you hear about this thing called Google AdWords Express, which takes all of the work out of maintaining a Google Ad account. Of course, your first inclination would be to jump on that express train. But before you make any commitment, we’re going to ask that you take a step back and consider the pros and cons of Google Ads vs. Google AdWords Express.

Google Ads vs. Google AdWords Express

Before diving into the pros and cons of Google Ads and AdWords Express, let’s be clear about what they are:

What is Google Ads

Formerly branded as Google AdWords, Google Ads is an online advertising platform created by Google that allows you to promote your content within the Google ad network (which reaches over 90% of internet users). The system is based on both user cookies and keywords, and you can bid on certain keywords in hopes of having your ads or promoted content served up around searches for those keywords. The best part is that, if your nonprofit qualifies for the Google Ad Grant, you’re not actually spending any of your own money when it comes to text-based Google Ads! Learn more about how to apply for the Google Ad Grant.

What is Google AdWords Express

Google AdWords Express is an automated version of Google Ads. When you set up your Ad Grant account, you have the option to choose Google AdWords Express. Create an ad, and let Google do the rest from there. Sound too good to be true? It just might be, which is what brings us to the pros and cons of both versions.

Benefits of Google Ads

Campaign Management Control

The major difference between Google Ads and Google AdWords Express is the amount of control you have over your account. When you set up a standard Google Ads account, you have complete control of how your account in structured, which keywords you bid on, and how much you want to spend on those keywords (note that the Ad Grant caps your bid at a $2.00 cost-per-click). You’re also able to make changes to campaigns based on your own learnings, or if larger organizational priorities change, and have complete control to A/B test new campaign ideas, copy, landing pages, and more.

Access To Unique Features and In-Depth Analytics

When you’re managing a Google Ad Grant via Google Ads, you have the opportunity to experiment with certain features, like ad extensions. Extensions can help increase your ad’s visibility in search results and improve metrics like click-through rate. Google Ads also offers more detailed reporting at the ad, ad group, and campaign level that’s unavailable with Google AdWords Express. We’re big into building a data culture to help make effective strategic decisions, so this alone is a major pro for us.

It’s A Great Learning Opportunity

If you work at a nonprofit that has any sort of marketing or communications department, assigning one person to own your Google Ad Grant account and dedicate 1–3 hours each month to do some basic maintenance via Google Ads is a great way to increase team capacity while driving more impact for the larger organization. If it still seems too intimidating, remember that there is no shortage of free Ad Grant resources out there to help you get started.

Problems with Google Ads

Time Investment

We’re going to be honest here: Setting up, maintaining, and optimizing a Google Ads account is not the quickest task to accomplish (that’s why we’ve spent over $1 million in Google’s dollars on  Ad Grant management for our clients). All of this won’t happen overnight, so you need to be prepared to put into a few hours up-front, and then an hour or two each month for ongoing account maintenance. AdWords is a marathon, not a sprint.

Steeper Learning Curve

Being in the Google Ads platform for the first time can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know exactly where to start, and you may feel like you need to be taking full advantage of every capability Google Ads has to offer on first blush. Let’s face it: It’s scary to start from scratch, but as with most things, practice makes perfect, slow and steady wins the race, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. (We promise:  No more clichés.)

Strict Policy Requirements

This point applies specifically to nonprofits taking advantage of the Google Ad Grant. When navigating a traditional Google Ads account with the grant, there are some policy requirements you need to make sure you’re honoring, otherwise your account can and will be suspended. That said, mistakes happen every now and then, and it’s very possible to get your account unsuspended. It’s a limitation nonetheless.

Benefits of Google AdWords Express

It’s… Express

The big appeal of Google AdWords Express, and one of the reasons it was created in the first place, was to severely cut down on the time and knowledge it takes to set up and manage advertising on Google. For nonprofits specifically, this value proposition seems ideal. Once you spend an hour or so creating a couple of different ads, Google takes control and you don’t have to think about it. After all, you have larger, more important things to focus on, like saving the world.

Lifted Policy Restrictions

When you’re taking advantage of the Google Ad Grant, there are certain policies you have to adhere to in order to main the grant. Requirements include keeping an account-wide click-through rate over 5%, having 2 ad groups in each campaign, and not bidding on single keywords. When you use Google AdWords Express, you’re giving full control over to Google, which exempts you from these strict requirements so you don’t have to worry about your account being suspended.

Problems with Google AdWords Express

Limited Ad Features

While AdWords Express lifts some of the policy restrictions traditionally placed on Google Ad Grant accounts, it also comes with some restrictions. As previously mentioned, you can’t take advantage of ad extensions. You also can’t utilize negative keywords. Negative keywords tell Google what searches you don’t want your ad to show up for to ensure your organization maintains a good reputation online and doesn’t get bad associations. With Google AdWords Express, you are also limited to using broad match keywords and can’t set up specific targeting beyond geography.  

Decreased Transparency

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. However, you have to be comfortable with applying this motto to your nonprofit’s digital marketing strategy if you choose to go with AdWords Express. You don’t get access to advanced analytics or reporting on your account, so you’re basically giving Google the reins and hoping your horse wins the race. If it doesn’t, you don’t really have anyone to blame, either.

Should I use Google AdWords Express?

There are cases to be made for using Google AdWords Express, and there are users who see a lot of success with it. However, we recommend that if you plan on taking full advantage of the Google Ad Grant and want to incorporate it into an effective, long-term digital strategy to drive real impact, it’s worth spending the time in the beginning to learn about and apply for the Grant, structure your account, and do some keyword research. The more effort you put in at the beginning when it comes to your Google Ads account, the higher payoff and less time it takes to manage it. We’re always more than happy to help you take those first steps.

Have more questions about Google Ads vs. Google AdWords Express? Tweet us at @WholeWhale!

If you’re a Google Ads newbie and would like to dive deeper about how to set up an account from scratch, how to write awesome ads, where to find keywords, and how to measure success within your account, enroll in our three-hour Whole Whale University course. You’ll learn how to make the absolute best use of this grant, which will mean thousands more users taking meaningful action on your site this year. We’ve managed over $4 million in Google Grants and we want to help you get free money too!